by David McElroy
It’s an old joke — and there are variations of it — but there’s some truth to it, because it’s a story that I’ve heard a number of times. In fact, it’s my story, too.
Most of us who’ve completely give up on the state started out in one of the mainstream political parties and then converted to the Libertarian Party, because we concluded that smaller government made sense and that there should be no distinction between economic and personal liberty. Republicans talk a good game about economic freedom, but they want to control your personal life. Democrats mostly talk a good game about personal (social) freedom, but they want to control your economic life. We see the contradiction of either of those positions, so we begin advocating the libertarian ideal of small government and freedom in all areas. For many of us, though, there’s a further step.
If you oppose government control on philosophical grounds, you soon run up against the issue of whether any form of the state can be morally justified. For many of us, we’ve reluctantly had to come to the conclusion that the state is immoral. Not just a “big state.” It applies to any state that claims the power to rule over the people and property that happens to fall within a certain geographical area — unless those people are there by their own choice and if they have other realistic choices.
If you live in the United States and aren’t happy with the direction of the country, you have a choice. You’re free to leave. There’s no Berlin Wall keeping us in. But we don’t have choices yet, because the idea of the nation-state still controls pretty much every square inch of this Earth. That might be changing.
If you don’t want to leave your current city or state, you still have no realistic choices. Some people, of course, turn to the Libertarian Party as their best solution. I did. I got involved and became a state vice chair, but I quickly realized that the party was never going to be successful for three reasons: First, the people attracted to libertarian ideas tend to be very bright people who can win debate contests, but aren’t necessarily good at the boring (and non-intellectual) work of running campaigns. Second, most people just plain don’t like our ideas and aren’t open to being persuaded. There’s no way to sugarcoat this. Regardless of their rhetoric at times, the vast majority like having someone “in charge.” Third, the rules of the U.S. political system are such that there’s no room for a third party to gain strength except in extremely rare circumstances (which I don’t see now).
After I gave up on the Libertarian Party as untenable, I moved back to working in the Republican Party, hoping to make ideas about individual freedom more acceptable there. Yes, there is indeed a core of people among Republicans who are really libertarians, but they’re far too few to change the party. It’s not going to happen.
After that, I entered a phase when I wished for political change, but didn’t see it as realistic. Eventually, though, it hit me. Opposing the state is a moral issue. You don’t fight an evil by asking it to be less evil. And you certainly don’t fight the state by becoming the state, which is what any political strategy entails. I finally had to accept that the state itself is the problem, not just the people at its controls. The state itself has to go before something new can develop that allows the kind of diversity of life that many of us would like.
Voting for people to “represent” you or rule over you is sort of like plantation slaves putting a lot of time and effort into campaigns and voting for which overseer they prefer. It’s true that one or the other of the candidates for overseer might be a bit more lenient with the whip, but you’re still a slave. The only person whose lead you want to follow is someone who will help you find a way (or a place) where you can walk away or say, “No, I’m not obeying you,” and nothing happens.
I don’t have any problem with leadership. I appreciate people who take leadership in helping to move people away from the state, but I can’t follow a leader (such as Ron Paul) whose vision includes a future where we’re still slaves of the state. It’s true that Paul (or whoever the Libertarian Party nominates next year) would be a much better overseer than the rest of the thugs, but if you buy into the notion that he has the right to rule you and spend your money, you don’t have a logical reason for saying that someone else can’t rule after him. You’re still a slave to the state.
The Founding Fathers of this nation-state started out with a faith in some basic principles, some of which were still radical for their day. They believed that power came from “the people” and that everyone had natural rights — as long as you weren’t black or female or a few other things. But they were very forward-thinking as compared to what had gone before them, so I’m not going to criticize them for not going far enough. What I’m going to say is that they expressed faith in liberty, but they set up a religion that didn’t match their faith. In the Declaration of Independence, they pronounced their faith in liberty. In the Constitution, they set up their religion — and kept the power to rule.
Marketing consultant Seth Godin discusses the difference between faith and religion — various kinds of religions — this way:
“Religion works great when it amplifies faith. That’s why human beings invented religion. It’s why we have spiritual religions and cultural religions and corporate religions. Religion gives our faith a little support when it needs it, and it makes it easy for your peers to encourage you to embrace your faith. Religion at its best is a sort of mantra, a subtle but consistent reminder that belief is OK and that faith is the way to get where you’re going. The reason we need to talk about this, though, is that often religion does just the opposite. Religion at its worst reinforces the status quo, often at the expense of our faith.”
The religion that the Founding Fathers set up is today’s U.S. government. It never fully embraced the faith that the founders claimed to have in liberty. They were unable or unwilling to actually put liberty into practice. As a result, the religion they started has become nothing but a sham — an empty shell that still goes through many of the rituals they established, but which has rejected the faith of liberty.
And that’s the core of the problem. We don’t need the state to control 90 percent of our lives or 50 percent of our lives or even 10 percent of our lives. We need the state to take its guns and its control and go away, so we can break down into groups living under different rules — as each group sees fit. No reform of the American state will allow that. It would just be another “one size fits all” solution that would degenerate back into what we have today — or worse. We need to reject the American religion, but embrace — in its full and complete form — the faith that many of those founders eloquently wrote about.
I love my many friends who are working in the Libertarian Party or in Ron Paul’s campaign. I’m not trying to talk them out of what they’re doing, because each of us has to do what seems morally right to him. And I certainly understand their arguments for what they’re doing, because I’ve made those arguments before. It’s just that I can’t in good conscience make either of those two choices anymore, because neither of them lead to the end of the state religion and an embrace of our professed faith in freedom.